Labour shortage looms over Japan’s transport industry

Labour shortage looms over Japan’s transport industry

A countrywide labour shortage and an older workforce have left the Japanese transport industry with too few truck drivers. MARISKA MORRIS reports

Japan is facing its worst labour shortage in 43 years. There are an estimated 1,48 jobs available for every job seeker. The Straits Time reports that this number is even higher for delivery workers with 2,68 job openings for each job seeker. The shortage of truck drivers is attributed to the low wages and long hours, which make the job unappealing to young people.

It is further aggravated by a surge in online shopping. According to The Straits Time, a record 3,9-billion packages were delivered to online shoppers in Japan during 2016. However, an estimated 20 percent of these packages had to be redelivered, as customers were not available to receive the packages at the time of delivery.

The Straits Time reports that another 90 000 delivery workers are needed for the return trips alone. To cut down on these trips, companies are now using smartphone apps on which the recipient must confirm they are available before the delivery is made.

At the request of the transport industry, a new driving licence category for quasi-medium size trucks weighing 3,5 to 7,5 t (including passengers and cargo) has been issued in the hope of attracting more young people to the transport industry.

To create this new category, the upper limit for light-duty trucks was lowered from five to 3,5 t, while the lower limit for medium-size trucks was lifted from five to 7,5 t.

The driver of a medium-size truck needs to be at least 20 years old with two or more years of driving experience to qualify for a licence. However, for the quasi-medium size truck, a driver needs to be only 18 years old with no driving experience required. Young people who already have a licence to drive a car will be allowed to drive quasi-medium size trucks of up to five tonnes.

With only four sets of driving lessons from a driving school, young people can have the limit on their licence removed in order to drive the 7,5-t trucks. The quasi-medium size trucks are typically used for short-distance or last-mile delivery of parcels and address the demand for online shopping deliveries.

The Japan Times quotes the spokesperson for Japan Trucking Association, Akira Saito: “When the category of medium-size trucks was introduced, drivers with a licence for regular vehicles were no longer allowed to drive so-called two-tonne trucks. Many trucking companies complain that they can’t fill new driver positions.”

With the new licence category, it is hoped that companies will find drivers more easily. The need for young people to replace the older population is especially pressing as the Japanese government is pushing to have elderly drivers removed from the roads.

According to The Japan Times, during the last decade about 450 fatal accidents were caused in the country annually by drivers aged 75 or older. To significantly reduce this number, a revised Road Traffic Law came into force in March, which introduced tougher tests to detect signs of dementia among elderly drivers renewing their licences.

In Japan, drivers aged 70 or older are required to take driving lessons and renew their licences. With this new law, elderly drivers also need to be tested for dementia by a doctor. If it is found that they have impaired memory or judgement, they are required to return their licences.

The Japan Times reports that between January and May around 106 000 elderly people voluntarily returned their licences. The number of fatal accidents caused by elderly people fell by 14,2 percent during the same period and is now the lowest it has been in ten years.

Technology magazine, Wired reports that the average age of American truck drivers is 65. The average age of a Japanese truck driver would be similar, as a quarter of Japan’s population is made up of people 65 years or older, The Japan Times reports. It is estimated that one in three people in Japan will fall into this age bracket by 2035.

In Japan, around 70 percent of people in this age category are willing to keep working past age 65 and in 2015, 7,3 million people 65 years or older still worked.

The Japanese logistics industry is considering autonomous deliveries with drones and self-driving trucks. The Straits Time reports that the government aims to have an automated delivery system in place by early 2020.

To assist in this project, Toyko has agreed to rewrite laws and implement the necessary infrastructure such as 5G mobile networks. Japan hopes to start delivering parcels by drones to the mountainous regions, which cover 73 percent of its total land area, by 2018.

According to The Straits Time, testing of driverless vehicles will begin by March 2018 in order to have self-driving cars by 2020 and self-driving trucks by 2022. While these innovations will assist the transport industry to address the driver shortage, a bigger concern looms over the country – a low birth rate.

If the Japanese population does not continue to grow, there will not be enough young people to replace the elderly or retired. This could lead to labour shortages in other areas of the transport industry. It seems Japan will not be able to resolve its labour shortage any time soon.

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